Sunday, September 1, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Righteous Gemstones' - Jesse Questions the Motives of His Family in 'They Are Weak, But He Is Strong'

HBO's The Righteous Gemstones - Episode 1.03 "They Are Weak, But He Is Strong"

Aimee-Leigh's elderly brother Baby Billy returns to the Gemstone ministry, bringing along his much younger wife Tiffany. Jesse closes ranks on his co-conspirators to root out the identity of his blackmailers.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of HBO's The Righteous Gemstones.

"They Are Weak, But He Is Strong" was written by Danny McBride & John Carcieri and directed by David Gordon Green

The Gemstones believe in a strong and vindictive God. They also view themselves as conduits of His presence on Earth. As such, they too must act in that way in order to preserve their power and influence over the flock who worship with them. It's a horrifying and repressive interpretation of scripture. One that is still mightily successful though. This is a family that lives a lavish and excessive lifestyle. They believe that they are humble and giving. But they are actually a corrupt institution that is essentially conning people because of their belief in a higher power. Johnny Seasons asks Eli a very pointed question here. Why is God's love not enough? That should be the message that guides him through absolutely everything. He should be nothing but a humble servant of the Lord who spreads the word for all to hear while taking care of the less fortunate. Eli sees that as a personal attack. He equates his success as a businessman with his belief in God. So long as he has that then the other will also be true. He can't be questioned now. He has to continue his commanding presence. That just means he drops a couple hundred dollar bills like it's nothing after breaking a window with a potato. Eli acts in that way because he feels personally slighted and attacked. He doesn't see any reason why someone would judge his character. He is nothing but a servant and messenger in this world. And yet, he is so much more than that. He has the clarity to see Baby Billy as a conman. Eli is a conman too. The entire Gemstone family is essentially conning their way through this life. That doesn't inherently make them bright though. In fact, it's a little infuriating just how dim they can actually be. Instead of trying to have an honest and nuanced discussion, they lash out in the most extreme ways possible. That's the way that they process and understand the world. Jesse can't accept Gideon coming home without it needing to be framed as some kind of big redemption story of failure out in Hollywood. Jesse feels humiliated when the rest of the family is completely accepting of Gideon's return. They actually enjoy the stories he has to tell about stunt work even though the audience knows his fate is much more complicated than that. Gideon sees the hypocritical nature of his family. He believes he can get in deeper in order to extort more money from his family. That may prove that he is fundamentally a Gemstone. He is willing to cheat and abuse a system just to get his version of vengeance. That's the story the show is trying to tell. It just needs a little more nuance in the mix. Right now, it continues to make these big and bold proclamations about the way that this specific family worships and how that is so destructive to the community around them. Jesse and Eli never have any evidence that Johnny Seasons has done something despicable to them. And yet, they always blame him for whatever problems may come up. Seasons wasn't the one blackmailing Jesse. He may be behind the vandalizing of the new church location headed by Baby Billy. But Eli doesn't get that confirmation before stripping these men down and sending them back out into the mall. He does that because he feels that is the only logical explanation. It's up to him to decide what their fate should be. He views himself as being above the law because he works for a higher power. This may be the thing that reinvigorates him once more. He can finally remind his children of the lessons their mother always preached. But that may not inherently better the lives of anyone. Instead, it may only further cement this as a world of extreme reactions that are bound to create even more tragedy moving forward. That will surely provide a fine amount of material for this strong cast to work with. However, none of these characters are really that funny in an earned way. That's a significant issue because the storytelling absolutely goes for those big laughs.